Jen Dodds: BSL users shouldn’t have to battle with other deaf people

Posted on March 26, 2014

So many things about being deaf are the same, no matter “how deaf”’ you are, or how you like to communicate.

Most of us can lipread – even if it’s only enough to understand important questions like “Do you want red or white wine?”

Most of us also use subtitles; I’m sure there’d be total uproar if all the subtitles in the world disappeared overnight. Even hearing people love them; they often have them on because they can’t understand people with funny accents.

To watch this article in BSL, click here or press play below:

Some things about being deaf are different, too, though. Some deaf people sign, some don’t.

Some deaf people who don’t sign are totally cool about that – they’re happy to support us BSL users but don’t really seem to be very interested in BSL stuff. Fine – it’s not their thing.

One thing I’ve never understood, though, is why some deaf people who don’t sign keep saying “what about us?” whenever sign language campaigns are mentioned.

I hate to say this, but really, it’s not about them.

Would it be OK for hearing people to represent deaf people? Of course not!

So, why is it OK for deaf non-signers to interfere in BSL users’ issues, often giving negative views and telling us there’s no point in campaigning for a BSL Act because [insert whatever reason]?

Simply being deaf does not make someone an expert on issues relating to everyone else who is deaf – some things are actually language issues, not deaf ones. (If it’s a language you don’t use, then what makes you think you have a say?)

The BDA’s discussion paper, Legal Status for BSL and ISL, was launched at its BSL Symposium on Tuesday 18th March (which was the 11th anniversary of the Government’s recognition of BSL – it’s commonly known as BSL Day, but every day is BSL day for me!).

The 104-page paper, prepared by Dr Sarah Batterbury Magill, explains what could be in a BSL Act, giving an in-depth background to the campaign. It is long, well researched… and extremely clear that this is a language issue.

Yes, we happen to be deaf, but we are also minority language users, and you know what? It’s actually quite complicated.

And that’s the thing. Some things about being deaf are the same – we can’t hear/love subtitles/can lipread bartenders – but some things are completely different. Really.

Sometimes, it’s about language use, not hearing. (This is actually something that Professor Graham Turner illustrated perfectly by signing rather than speaking last week. He still kept getting excluded – “People immediately started treating me as if I were invisible” – without needing to block his ears up with Blu Tack. Precisely my point!)

I could be wrong, but I sometimes get the impression that deaf non-signers think we’re asking for “something extra” from the Government. Kind of like BSL is a bonus thing, in addition to other things we use, like subtitles and lipreading skills.

And is that fair? Perhaps not, but it’s not as if all the subtitles will disappear because we want a BSL Act(!)

At the end of the day, we should be allies and support each other, and if we have nothing positive to say, perhaps we should keep quiet (I’m asking nicely!).

BSL users know what BSL users need – we have enough to worry about without having to battle with other deaf people.
There’s something quite sad about that.

Jen Dodds is a Contributing Editor for The Limping Chicken. When she’s not looking after chickens or children, Jen can be found translating, proofreading and editing stuff over at Team HaDo Ltd (

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s independent deaf news and deaf blogs website, posting the very latest in deaf opinion, commentary and news, every weekday! Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our supporters on the right-hand side of this site or click here.

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